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Public defenders ‘overworked’

Six attorneys’ caseloads exceed recommendations for public defenders

The Ohio Revised Code says that both public defenders and court-appointed counsel are able to refuse to accept additional cases if their workload threatens their ability to represent their clients.

That might happen in Athens.

There are six full-time public defenders who work in the Office of the Ohio Public Defenders in Athens County. They’re also responsible for representing clients in 10 other counties in Southeastern Ohio: Adams, Brown, Fayette, Jackson, Meigs, Pickaway, Ross, Washington, Trumbull and Pike counties.

“That’s a lot of traveling,” said Herman Carson, director of the Office of the Ohio Public Defenders in Athens County.

The small staff is affecting the office’s overall performance, Carson said.

“If the caseload is smaller, our performance will be better,” Carson said. “Or (if we have) more full-time attorneys.”

Last year, the Athens County office opened more than 2,000 cases, with 605 carrying over from the year before. That totals approximately 3,000 cases handled in 2013.

Between the five full-time public defenders and director in 2013, the defenders saw a varying caseload:

Carson handled: 144 felony cases

Douglas Francis handled: 297 felony cases, 39 juvenile cases and 130 misdemeanor cases

Glenn Jones handled: 224 felony cases

David Baer handled: 494 felony cases

Jennifer Baughman handled: 52 felony cases, 269 misdemeanor cases and 13 juvenile cases

Eric Hedrick handled: 23 misdemeanor cases and seven felony cases

The sixth public defender, Justin Townley, started working for the department Dec. 1. Caseload can vary based on the felony level, which determines the length of the case. Carson, for example, tends to handle higher-level felony cases.

The American Bar Association’s standard caseload for public defenders, established in 2007, is 150 felonies, 400 misdemeanors or 200 juvenile cases per attorney per year.

The Office of the Ohio Public Defender employs five attorneys at Athens County’s branch uptown, six in Ross County and three at the Washington County office, said Amy Borror, spokesperson of the Office of the Ohio Public Defender.

“The attorneys who cover Athens County have been covering far too many cases in recent years, which is why we negotiated an additional attorney when we renegotiated our contract with Athens County,” Borror said.

Borror said offices sometimes will hire contract attorneys if there isn’t a sufficient caseload to justify employing a full-time public defender or if full-time public defenders are unable to take on more work and need additional coverage of cases.

Athens County already has some of these in place — three contract attorneys represent clients in juvenile and misdemeanor cases. These contract attorneys handled about 350 misdemeanor cases in 2013.

The six full-time attorneys oversee criminal cases with potential for jail sentences, said Tara Sayre, secretary at the Athens County office.

Depending on the case, contract attorneys typically earn about $10,000 during their time working for the office, which traditionally lasts six months to a year.

“We talk to them over the phone most of the time, and it takes up a lot of time doing that,” Carson said of coordinating his contract attorneys’ caseloads.

Carson’s salary is about $90,000, while the other general attorneys earn anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000, depending on the type of cases and workload they take on.

Nearly $3.5 million was allocated through the state last year to fund the multi-county program, which enables Athens County attorneys to cover cases outside of their jurisdiction.

“Oh, our office is definitely overworking,” Sayre said.

@_SuhyeonPark

sp317712@ohio.edu

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